Grover Whelan meets with Dennis Nolan and Jose Gonzalez


Americans plodded into the 1930s filled with depair and hopelessness in the midst of the deepest and longest economic depression in the history of the nation. At one point, more than one quarter of American workers were unemployed. The cities were hit the worst, with sad and desperate people of all ages selling apples on street corners and lining up in front of soup kitchens for a few bites of food. All across the country, aging and damaged infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public buildings began to crumble. The American Dream was fading, and the end of the suffering was not easily seen when looking into the future.

In 1935, a group of retired police officers in New York decided that perhaps one way to kickstart the American spirit and perhaps hasten the end of our economic woes would be to organize an international exposition dedicated to the vision of a prosperous future. They rented office space in the iconic Empire State Building and formed the New York World's Fair Corporation, electing as its president Grover Whelan, a former police chief. The site chosen for the fair was an abandoned ash dump in Flushing. The City of New York was happy to provide the site, as the Corporation would rehabilitate the land at its own expense, then donate the park to the City after the fair had run its course.

Over the next three years, excitement grew as a World of the Future rose, like a phoenix, from the ashes of the past. Around the world, nations signed on to provide pavillions to showcase their unique cultures and traditions. Companies like Ford and Westinghouse spent millions of dollars to build innovative and technologically advances attractions. The Fair organizers, believing that the exposition should have some historical connection, decided to dedicate the event to George Washington and chose the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his inauguration as president for opening day.


President Roosevelt opening the fair

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was on hand to open the Fair with an inspiring 14 minute speech. Click on the photo above to hear the audio.


Get to know the fair by viewing this episode of our series Back In The Day.